The journal of Lockerby the sandalwood trader

A Fijian Fort illustrated with the descriptions provided by William Lockerby. Picture: THE JOURNAL OF WILLIAM LOCKERBY

Written records show that the earliest people who interacted with indigenous Fijians in early Fiji may have been sandalwood traders.

They spent several months in Bua, on the coast of western Vanua Levu in the early 19th century, before the arrival of Wesleyan missionaries in the 1830s.

The discovery of sandalwood, while accidental, led to increased and frequent western trading ships, where many with luck escaped shipwreck by following the correct route.

William Lockerby was one of the many sandalwood traders who discovered that the commodity was abundant in the western side of Vanua Levu.

In the book, ‘The Journal of William Lockerby, Sandalwood Trader in the Fijian Islands during the Years 1808-1809’ written by Leonard Wharton and Sir Everard Im Thurn we know some accounts of his time in Fiji.

Lockerby was born on January 6, 1782, in the district of Annandale and county of Dumfries, Scotland.

The book extracted an autobiographical account of Lockerby’s ancestry which linked him to be of a lineal descendant of the Lockerbys of that ilk who were ‘proprietors of considerable lands and were masters of Lockerby castle’.

He died on June 29, 1853, at the age of 70 at Fairfield House. He had seven daughters and one son.

According to the book, information gleaned from Lockerby’s journals revealed that it was during his stay at Port Jackson, today called Sydney Harbour, that the news of sandalwood in Fiji reached the Australian penal colony.

Lockerby’s stay in Fiji, the book suggested, may be divided into three periods.

“Firstly, the time from his arrival to that at which the ‘Jenny’ sailed away and left him,” the book read.

“Secondly that which spent actually among the Fijians as the guest of the Chief of Mbua and thirdly that after the arrival of ‘Favourite,’ while he was engaged in collecting sandalwood for that ship and for the General Wellesley on which last named ship he sailed for China.”

Lockerby’s journal entry revealed that while at Port Jackson they learnt that sandalwood was a great value in the Chinese market and the natives in Fiji were using it to ‘burn on their altars and over the bodies of their deceased friends’.

On April 12, 1808, the Jenny passed Vatoa Island in Lau.

A large canoe came to the ship where the chief of the island and his wife brought a large baked shark for the ship’s skipper, Captain Dorr.

On May 21, 1808, almost five weeks later, they arrived at Bua Bay after stopping over at the western side of Koro Island where they were entertained by the ‘king and encountered trouble from natives on the east side’.

“At this place we found a ship and a brig at anchor, belonging to Port Jackson, owned by Messrs. Lord, Cable, and Underwood, gentlemen, who a few years ago were transported from England as common convicts,” Lockerby wrote.

They had attempted to run their ship on shore and prevent them from getting a cargo of sandalwood but failed. Later, they went to shore to invite the Chief of Nabouwalu on board the ship to receive a present from captain Dorr.

“The next day he came, and was presented with five whale’s teeth and some iron; several saws and axes were also given him to cut wood for us, but as this was the only part of the island where the sandalwood had been cut, it was not then plentiful.”

Due to that they later sailed to Wailea Bay which was directly north of Bua Bay.

“We traded with the people of Highley Bay for some time, for iron work, beads. They gave us sandalwood, but and brought down to the beach, where I had built a hut in which we lived in the daytime, but for fear of alarm, slept in the boats at night.

“The ship had almost completed her cargo when to my utter astonishment I was told by the natives that the ship had sailed.

“I and five men on our return from the Bay to the place where we expected to find her, were astonished to observe she had sailed.”

Lockerby shared that whether it was the intention of the captain to leave them or not, would not be known as he had denied that and excused himself by saying that ‘the ship was drove to sea.’

“Be this as it may, by this accident I was left among a race of cannibals, far from every object that was near and dear to me, and possessing but very faint hopes of a vessel calling at such a simply dismal corner of the globe that might carry me and my unfortunate comrades again into civilized society.”

After the ship had sailed on July 28, 1808, he went the next day to visit the old ‘King of Myemboo’ (Bua).

“By this time I spoke the language in a tolerable manner, I told him my misfortune to which he answered more like a father than an uncultured savage that I was very welcome to stay with him.

“He then took me to his house, where he gave me some breadfruit, but would not allow me to feed myself, it being contrary to the custom of the principal chiefs, who always have one to feed them; and this honour was shewn to me all the time that I lived with them.

“The first nine months that I lived among them I saw no human flesh eaten. During that period their conduct towards me, and their general character, as much as I could observe of it, made me consider them in quite a different light than in that of cannibals.” Lockerby, anxious of those he left back home, his beloved wife, parents, and other relations that looked up to him for support and protection, influenced his decision to acquire the goodwill of the natives, especially their king.

“I adopted their manners and customs as much as possible; went naked with only a belt made from the bark of a tree round my waist that hung down before and behind like a sash, the islanders were also dresses in this way.

“The King’s family, who lived with him, consisted of his wife, three children, his two sisters, his niece and myself. “The men who had been left behind with me were living with the lower class of natives; they often complained to me of their being very much distressed for want of provisions.” Lockerby gave an insight of a war that had taken place while he was there and how the king and his people built reinforcements by building a fort.

“Several islanders had combined and were making preparations for attacking the King’s place and the island of Tavea, the chief of which was the old King’s nephew, who would not enter into the league.

“On the 9th. of Sept., the King told me that the next day I must go with him to see the fort of Tattalepo (Tathi-Levu). “This was a district of a petty chief named Walabatoo (Vale-vatu), who was subject to the King.”

Lockerby described how war was the indigenous people’s profession and how on September 15, the King and five hundred men were assembled, forming a halfmoon and preparing for war to arrive in the next few days.

“A messenger was then dispatched to inform the strangers that the King was ready to receive them.”

On October 2, Lockerby discovered with joy a vessel called the ‘Favourite’ which had come for a cargo of sandalwood had anchored at the bay.

“I now thought my troubles were at an end, but the reader will find how much I was mistaken, when he reads that the sufferings I had hitherto endured were comparatively mere trifles to those which followed, and that the most interesting part of my narrative is yet to commence.”

Part 2 Next Week • History being the subject it is, a group’s version of events may not be the same as that held by another group. When publishing one account, it is not our intention to caused division or to disrespect other oral traditions. Those with a different version can contact us so we can publish your account of history too — Editor

More Stories